Kathy Willens / AP
“No one should have to spend the holidays in jail simply because they can’t afford bail,” Meek Mill said in a statement, “and no child should be without their parents during this time."
For a handful of Philadelphia residents facing the prospect of Christmas in jail, two mass bailout initiatives in recent days — including one by the rapper and reform advocate Meek Mill — brought a welcomed surprise: the chance to get home for the holidays.
The Philadelphia Bail Fund and Philadelphia Community Bail Fund combined forces to run a 24-hour bail watch and bailout, posting bail for a dozen people. Meanwhile, Meek Mill paid bail to release five women in time for the holiday, according to the REFORM Alliance, and expected to bring home 15 more women over the coming week.
“No one should have to spend the holidays in jail simply because they can’t afford bail,” Mill said in a statement, “and no child should be without their parents during this time if we can do something about it.”
According to the Philadelphia Department of Prisons’ most recent report, nearly 1,300 of the
4,500 people incarcerated at the jails were held because they were awaiting trial and unable to post bail, or bail was denied or revoked. And more than 90% of those incarcerated were Black or Latino.
A recent Philadelphia Bail Fund analysis found that 800 people a month in Philadelphia are still ordered held on cash bail — a similar number of defendants are released without having to pay anything — and that the median bail imposed is $100,000.
Their 24-hour bailout this last week included a citizen court-watching initiative, during which they reported that magistrates set bail totaling $4.5 million. They found that prosecutors requested bail be set at $999,999 — effectively ensuring incarceration — for 27 defendants.
Volunteers reported being surprised by the magistrates’ treatment of the defendants, given that they are presumed innocent. They reported that one told a defendant: “Some bail needs to be set to help you make better decisions,” while another said, “I applaud you for making it to [age] 27 without convictions in this city.” In other cases, they reported, magistrates expressed “regret” over the bail amounts they were about to impose, or even urged the bail fund to pay to release a defendant.
“We wanted to get as many of our neighbors home for the holidays as we could, and also highlight how deep a crisis remains around cash bail in this city,” Philadelphia Bail Fund executive director Salih Israil said in a statement. “This is just one typical day in the city’s courts.”